Mormon church to cut ties with Boy Scouts and start its own gospel-driven youth program

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Boy Scout troop 747 from West Jordan salutes as the funeral procession of LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson moves along South Temple in Salt Lake City Friday, January 12, 2018.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ending its more than century-old relationship with the Boy Scouts of America and will create new youth programs for its members.

The church announced Tuesday evening that it will sever ties with the organization, effective Dec. 31, 2019, according to a news release. The church said it’s making the change to better serve its worldwide congregation.

“As a global church with millions of children and youth, we need to address diverse needs and fortify all children and youth with gospel-centered growth and learning experiences now more than ever,” the church said in a joint statement with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA).

The LDS Church is the biggest participant in American Scouting, with approximately 425,000 LDS youths in Cub and Boy Scout programs. Mormons account for about 19 percent of the BSA’s membership, which totals about 2.3 million, according to the Boy Scouts.

Before Tuesday’s announcement, the LDS Church had alluded to starting its own global youth program.

The new program, according to the release, aims to “help all girls and boys, young women and young men discover their eternal identity, build character and resilience, develop life skills and fulfill their divine roles as daughters and sons of God.”

The curriculum is said to focus on helping youths set and achieve goals so they grow “spiritually, socially, physically, and intellectually as they seek to follow Jesus Christ.”

In addition to ending its charter with with the Scouts, the new youth initiative could also affect church-run programs like Faith in God, Activity Days, girls’ Personal Progress and boys’ Duty to God.

The church encouraged its members to continue participating in the Scouts and the other church youth programs until Dec. 31, 2019.

Effie Delimarkos, BSA spokeswoman, said that her organization “deeply appreciates” the relationship it’s had with the LDS Church and that it is grateful to Scout leaders who have served in the church-sponsored troops.

She added that she is confident many LDS families will stick with the Boy Scouts into and beyond 2020.

Peter Brownstein, a Jewish Scout leader in Utah, told The Salt Lake Tribune that he hopes to keep Scouting thriving in Utah.

“This allows the LDS Church to provide a program that best meets their needs and allows the BSA to continue to serve the needs of our nation's youth as they feel is appropriate,” he said. “Win win.”

It’s unclear how the break will affect Utah’s three Scout councils, which are composed almost entirely of LDS-chartered partners. However, while most councils across the country have some LDS membership, 10 percent of councils are affected in a “significant way,” according to the BSA.

“The National Council will dedicate resources and support to help transition these councils, including those in Utah, so that they can operate in a sustainable manner,” the Scouts said.

The Great Salt Lake Council, which serves northern Utah, released a statement Tuesday night, saying it was grateful for its longtime partnership with the LDS Church.

“We will continue to devote our efforts toward supporting our council’s stakes, wards, families and young men with a vibrant, strong Scouting program over the remaining 20 months of the partnership — and beyond for all youth who wish to be Scouts,” the statement reads.

The Utah National Parks Council, which supports chartered troops throughout much of the southern part of state, said in a 2017 blog post that 99 percent of its chartered partners were LDS-affiliated. Representatives did not immediately return The Tribune’s requests for comment Tuesday evening.

Attempts to reach the Ogden-based Trapper Trails Council for comment were also unsuccessful.

Tuesday’s announcement comes less than a week after the Boy Scouts of America said it would change the name of its Boy Scouting program to reflect its welcoming of girls, who were were recently allowed to join the ranks of their male counterparts. The program will be called Scouts BSA, starting in February.

The LDS Church has said that despite the Scouts’ changing admission standards, the church-operated Scouts programs — and the LDS-sponsored equivalent girls programs, Activity Days and Personal Progress — would remain the same.

In 2015, the LDS Church raised concerns about the Scouts allowing openly gay men to be Scout leaders, The Tribune reported.

Mormon doctrine dictates that gay men can hold leadership roles within the church and in church-sponsored activities as long as the leaders don’t act on their attraction to the same sex and are celibate.

After the Scouts allowed openly gay men to be leaders in the organization in 2015, the LDS-affiliated troops were allowed to continue operating in accordance with their faith standards. That meant that though no BSA-wide ban exists for gay leaders who are sexually active or are in same-sex relationships, one is practically imposed in Mormon-run troops.

Delimarkos said the Boy Scouts have no plans to change the names of facilities honoring Scouting supporters, like the Thomas S. Monson Lodge at the Hinckley Scout Ranch in northern Utah, which was named in 2015 for the then-LDS Church president.

Reporter Peggy Fletcher Stack contributed to this story.